Straw into Gold, revisited

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  This project is an extension of our group project. In its first iteration, "Straw into Gold" placed a version of the Rumpelstiltskin story, taken from Project Gutenberg by the artists, on a blog, urging readers to post their own edited versions. On the three criteria scale of Open Source Culture, this project fully achieved its potential to appropriate and to share, but we felt its collaborative component (the blogging) remained more of a possibility than an actualization. Since then, we have advertised the blog through posters and through Facebook, and gathered bloggers together over snacks (picture) to co-create. The result is a more advanced, but still in progress, blog, with five versions of the story running simultaneously.

    Among the noteworthy elements of this second phase is the way the digital technology of blog reached its maximum potential by interactions in the non-digital world: through print advertising and a face to face gathering. Not only did bloggers comment on and edit each other's stories on the sight, but participants contributed to each other's stories verbally by shouting out questions and suggestions as they went. It is also worth noting that this old fashioned network of in person connections prompted people to engage much more quickly than did the more disparate internet pleas.

    When we set out on this project, we hoped to achieve the pedagogical goal of learning more about a text by writing into it. Because so many fairy tales begin or end with marriage, or establish marriage as a life-goal, sex underlies the fairy-tale form. But because these stories circulated in conservative societies or among small children, the power dynamics, physical nature or emotional depth of sexuality are often left out. Both Anne and Maha detected new these ideas surrounding agency, gender and political power in the Rumpelstiltskin story as we edited it. Interestingly, the concern with gender and sexuality surfaced in two of the other versions as well, suggesting that there is a noticeable tension on this issue in the original text that many readers pulled out. This is the kind of learning we believe collaborative writing produces.

    Of course, it is also just plain fun - at least for some folks. The fact that "smut" showed up so quickly in the project highlights the link between this project and fanfiction, which often involves sexual stories depicted to a degree of explicitness unavailable in popular texts. This can raise a lot of questions. In this case, there is no worry about "what would the original artist think," but there is a concern over accessibility. With the creation of adult content, we added the typical Blogger warning, which now tells people attempting to access the site that adult content is on it. This may deter some potential participants from ever clicking through. It also raises the question of what the limits of our openness are. Some of the stories now include incest, pedophilia, and rape, albeit in brief mentions. Is there a point at which we would draw the line, or would we let things go as long as it relates to the story? Are we taking on responsibility for the content on our site, or does being open source mean we have a responsibility to step back? A potential answer could be in the cultivation of community norms, but since our project is in such a fledgling stage, this seems like an unlikely development, at least for now. So, right now this remains an open question, one which many other online communities are grappling with.

    Of course, there are no right answers, and the stories on this blog are not uniform. In this small collection, there are examples of political satire, of space-age science fiction, of romance fiction, of erotica, of tongue-in-cheek hypertext. We look forward to seeing this diverse catalogue of interpretations grow.

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